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PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF DUBLIN,
VICE-PRESIDENT OP THE NEW SHAKSPERE SOCIETY.'
HENRY S. KING & Co.,
Still no one,
The attempt made in this volume to connect the study of Shakspere's works with an inquiry after the personality of the writer, and to observe, as far as is possible, in its several stages the growth of his intellect and character from youth to full maturity, distinguishes the work from the greater number of preceding criticisms of Shakspere. A sense of hazard and difficulty necessarily accompanies the attempt to pass through the creations of a great dramatic poet to the mind of the creator. I suppose, would maintain that a product of mind, so large and manifold as the writings of Shakspere, can fail in some measure to reveal its origin and cause.
The reader must not fall into the error of supposing that I endeavour to identify Shakspere with any one of his dramatic personages.
The complex nature of the poet contained a love-idealist like Romeo—(students of the Sonnets will not find it difficult to admit the possibility of this); it contained a speculative intellect like that of Hamlet. But the complete Shakspere was unlike Romeo, and unlike Hamlet. Still it is evident, not from one play, but from many, that the struggle between “ blood” and “judgment” was a great affair of Shakspere's life ; and in all his later works we observe the effort to control a wistful curiosity about the mysteries of human existence. And therefore, I say, a potential Romeo and a potential Hamlet, taking these names as representative of certain spiritual tendencies or habits, existed in Shakspere. Nor do I identify Shakspere with Prospero ; although Shakspere's temper in the plays of the last period is the temper of Prospero.
It would not be easy to picture to ourselves the great · magician waited on by such ministering spirits as Sir John Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch, and the Nurse of Juliet.
In order to get substantial ground to go upon I have thought it necessary to form acquaintance with a considerable body of recent Shakspere scholarship, both English and Continental. But I avoid the discussion of purely scholastic questions. To approach Shakspere on the human side is the object of this book ; but I believe that Shakspere is not to be approached on any side through dilettantism.
I have carefully acknowledged my obligations to preceding writers. In working out the general design and main features of this study, I was able to obtain little help; but in details I obtained much. My references express, I may say, considerably more than my actual debt; for in those instances in which I found that my thought had been anticipated, and well expressed elsewhere, I have noted the coincidence. Doubtless many instances of such coincidence remain unobserved by me. Since I wrote the chapter in which “ The Tempest” is considered, I have read for the first time Lloyd's essay upon
the play, and I have found some striking and satisfactory points of agreement between myself and that good critic.
In all essentials I have adhered to the chronological method of studying Shakspere's writings. But it seemed pedantry to sacrifice certain advantages of contrast and comparison to a procedure in every instance, from play to play, according to dates. Thus, in the chapter on the English Historical Plays I have, for convenience of illustration, treated Henry VI. after King John and before Richard III. In the opening of the eighth chapter I have explained what I believe to be the right manner of using the chronological method. I have called “The Tempest” Shakspere's last play, but I am quite willing to grant that “A Winter's Tale,” “ Henry VIII,” and perhaps “ Cymbeline," may actually have succeeded “The Tempest.” For the purposes of such a study as the present, if it be admitted that these plays belong to one and the same period,—the final period of the growth of Shakspere's art,—it matters little how the plays succeeded one another within that period.
I refer in one passage to Henry VIII., Act iv., Scene 2, as if written by Shakspere. The scene was, I believe, conceived by Shakspere, and carried out in the spirit of his design by Fletcher.
About half of this volume was read in the form of lectures (“Saturday Lectures in connection with Alexandra College, Dublin "), in the Museum Buildings, Trinity College, Dublin, during the spring of the year, 1874.
In some instances I have referred to, and quoted from papers by the Rev. F. G. Fleay as read at meetings of